Anyone following this blog and my posts this year will have a very clear idea about my leanings as far as party politics goes. Ever since the Maori Party sold out to National on the foreshore and seabed bill - for no gain whatsoever - I have been an adamant critic of that party, its direction, its dwindling personnel, its increasingly inept and myopic caucus and in particular Te Ururoa Flavell whom I challenged at a local meeting in February and found woeful, wanting and wayward. His road kill of a road show around the rohe was not to consult, but to instruct us that it was a done deal. This fait accompli process and the bill itself was at odds with the party's own kaupapa and a betrayal of the very reason they were elected to parliament. My thoughts were shared by most rank and file party members, supporters, Maori generally and also many Pakeha and others who saw the sell out for what it was. The Maori Party were doing the dumbest thing they could ever have done and yet there seemed no way of making them see sense. The frustration and disappointment was palpable at meetings during this period.
In the email correspondence between him and I during the small window of opportunity that they gave he was at turns dismissive, evasive and misleading. He told me I had a week to make submissions and then he reneged and said I had run out of time and then ran a campaign to ram the bill through as fast as possible - all the while claiming it was their bill even though both the timetable and the text was of the National Party's creation. It became apparent that he and the caucus had sided with National's version of the bill - a version that maintained the Crown confiscation and relegated the rights of the traditional owners to next to nothing as the previous Labour bill had done in 2004. This would be a continuation of the constitutional abomination of the 2004 Act only this time it would have the imprimatur of Maori consent via the Maori Party. This would not represent the true picture and could not be left to stand.
They had sidelined Hone Harawira because of his opposition to it. In order to head Hone off at the pass, before he could rally the grassroots from under the leadership to oppose the bill, Te Ururoa used a newspaper article of Hone's as an excuse to sanction him. Te Ururoa admitted to that meeting I was at that he did this for "personal reasons" not as the party's whip per se. A mediation process was launched - all the time Hone was under a form of censure whereby he was restricted from comment and thus was effectively muzzled while the bill was being forced through the House. In the end it was Tariana (from what I now understand) that finally pulled the plug on Hone and short-circuited the mediation which involved face to face talks with Te Ururoa. From the email correspondence I was having with Te Ururoa and other Maori Party figures at the time Hone was being pushed out and it was clear the result would be a split.
And so Hone was forced to walk away. The membership that was dismayed and in various levels of disbelief discontinued their active membership and the branch structure began dissolving as officers and the rank-and-file reciprocated the leadership's abandonment of the party's principles by abandoning the party. When Hone decided to launch his own waka - with the help of the respected leftist political organiser Matt McCarten - the abandonment became wholesale desertion to what is now the Mana movement.
I was at the East Cape, Whanau-a-Apanui, protest against the PetroBras oil exploration surveying when I met up with Hone. He has a relaxed manner, mixes freely with everyone and speaks his mind. These are the things that attract people to him and upend any preconceptions the media have created. It was a hot early April day on the coast and it was noticeable that although it was in Te Ururoa's electorate he was not present and whereas a year ago at such a big gathering (500+) there would expected to be Maori Party flags galore there was only a single flag that I could see of the many dozens flying. There were signs all the way down the coast on SH35 and many had unpleasant things to say about the Maori Party and their relationship with National. It was obvious that people were turning away from his former colleagues en masse. Hone was the only one from the Maori Party to stick to the principles upon which he was elected and has a track record of consistency on promoting workers' rights, Maori rights and development and opposing the privileged few that exploit the people they have cast below them. He opposed National's ramping up GST to 15% even though the rest of the Maori Party caucus voted for it when they did not have to. He was thrust - by others - into a position of leadership and took up that challenge. This is mana.
I attended a hui in Whakatane later that month when Hone took his concept for a party out to the people. Annette Sykes was at the fore in what looked like a leadership role and other staunch wahine - such as Dayle Takitimu from up the coast - were coming on board in what was shaping up to be a credible basis for a competitive party to rival and subsume the Maori Party. At that hui the word "Mana" was being floated as the name for the party and it was gathering momentum.
For some months, Sue Bradford, who had left the Greens (and the cosy position as an MP) after losing out in a struggle to co-lead them had been posited as a potential candidate for a new party of the left. With Matt McCarten organising from a worker/union/left background the momentum was turning from Hone and the Maori seats into a wider platform that crossed the nation's conventional Maori-Pakeha ethnic lines into something resembling a genuine people's movement. This would be radical on both a political/ideological axis and on a social/historical plane. The first because it would be to the left of the increasingly middle class Greens and the hopelessly compromised Labour Party. The second because no party in parliament had ever been created from a Maori basis that had incorporated non-Maori into it on an open and equal footing (and different from the tokenistic larger parties that came from a Pakeha basis and maintain a Maori VP, but no Pakeha VP for example). There was much anticipation and hope for a new political force to contest the general election.
With McCarten's encouragement, after Hone had consulted at hui around the country and most importantly with his own electorate, he took the chance of re-establishing his mandate with a by-election (held 25th June) - ironically as Tariana Turia had done when she split with Labour over the Foreshore and Seabed bill in 2004. Doubly ironic since the Maori party were to criticise this move - and trebly ironic when they then stood a candidate! Although at this point it is more apt to describe these machinations as hyprocritical and - as it turned out - also humiliating.
Given that standing against Hone was also a direct breach of the peace pact arranged when Hone left it also signalled they could not be trusted and that all bets were off. The rump Maori Party, clinging to their ministerial warrants under the skirt of the Tories and acting as if that were reason enough to justify their existence, had sacrificed everything that their Maori constituents had ever sought from them: an independent and strong Maori voice that protected their interests. As it transpired that Maori Party candidate - reflecting their shrinking base, elderly and bereft - polled only 10% and Hone almost 50% despite the Labour candidate having a great deal of that party's Parliamentary Services budget and MPs poured into the campaign with even the National Party PM publicly endorsing the Labour candidate.
I was not surprised by Hone's win - or by the handy majority in the circumstances - even though many political commentators and journalists (by and large Pakeha and right leaning) had called it for Labour. The "Mana Party" had been registered in the nick of time and Hone was to return from the very back of the class to the front bench as a party leader.
In quick succession the movement had gone from a launch in April to a successful by-election campaign and win in June to representation in July to a formal AGM in Auckland in early August. The AGM was a demonstration that Mana was aiming to be a mass movement - with speakers and personalities from various backgrounds appearing. It was clear that Mana was for more than just Maori and was seeking to extend beyond that perceived niche into the traditional territory of the left and centre-left parties. The movement could safely appeal for party votes with Hone secured in his electorate seat. Although the rhetoric of the poor and alienated is contrary to the prevailing self-description of the voting population as mostly "middle class" the potential traction with those who align with the "struggling" description and those better off who sympathise with their plight under a National government could resonate well into the double figures.
I have argued that Mana has crossed the ethnic threshold and to keep it there the list must reflect this. I note too that with the backing of some heavy-weight intellectuals from the left (incl. Jane Kelsey) combined with the Goffphobic flight from Labour and their potential collapse (a la the English-Boag implosion for the Nats in 2002) it is a realistic possibility under those circumstances that Mana could also cross the 5% threshold. No doubt the activist brands of John Minto and Sue Bradford will - excuse the expression - militate against any significant middle class backing from the mortgage belt, it could yet take a reasonable chunk of the working poor across ethnic lines should the Labour vote remain uninspired and skeptical of Helen's hangers-on.
The main factor against all of this optimism for Mana is the short timeframe. The ridiculously, implausibly short timeframe. To go from a man in the wilderness in late June to a fully functioning political apparatus and campaign machine ready to meet the nomination date next month is a monumental task. Almost impossible, almost, but not quite. The spontaneous sprouting of Mana groups (as can be seen on facebook) and the staunch backing and abilities of the creme of the ex-Maori Party members and previously non-aligned activists will not be enough on their own to overcome the fact that there is only ten weeks to go to the general election. Time is needed to build networks, to formulate policy, to organise, to establish a base, to communicate the ideas and values and policies to the people. And on the time basis alone I believe that it is Phil Goff and his negatives more than Hone Harawira and his positives who will deliver the votes to Mana in the final analysis.
As time ticks on and the political vacuum created by the suction of the Rugby World Cup displaces all public discourse (the trending words on Twitter and the blanket coverage in all the mainstream media will verify that) a strong showing of the top Mana list candidates on the first week after the RWC ends is crucial. Good luck to them - whoever they are - they will need it.
There seems little point in discussing anything beyond the campaign due to the timeline, but I have to mention that Mana - as a movement - will face inevitable tensions regardless of how many MPs are elected under the banner. Whether Mana is a party of protest, the disaffected and activists suited, if not wedded, to opposition and seeing themselves as a niche Maori party? or is Mana capable of transcending that into a broader organisation - an institutional party - that will aim to eventually dislodge Labour as the better representative of the working class? If it ever achieves the second it won't be through personality alone, and Hone - as he would explain - is there due to circumstance and necessity rather than as an ego trip. If it is achieved it will be because the originating base is Maori and the kaupapa of inclusion is a point of difference unable to be replicated with any authenticity by the established Pakeha-originated and Pakeha-dominated parties. This is to say that non-Maori will probably be in the majority of the movement if it becomes institutional/governing, but because the genesis is Maori and the base has come from Maori the tensions and marginalisation found in the other parties will not be a major factor. In this sense I believe that Mana (and Mana alone in the current system) has the potential to be truly 'post-racial' and a functioning example of the type of organisation that will exist as a norm in Aotearoa in the future; that is to say without formal ethnic divisions. This is not to say there won't be problems and tensions along the way or that they don't already exist in a latent sense - all parties are prone to conflict around personalities and factions no matter what their size - but rather Mana being from a Maori beginning is a rock that will be hard to dislodge if everyone is allowed to stand upon it.
As for my own involvement in the Mana movement I have publicly backed Hone and his stance over the foreshore and seabed from the beginning and find the principles of the movement sound. I don't find anything objectionable in the current policy documents circulated from the Mana groups, but I know - instinctively - that I would eventually find myself to the conventional right of the spectrum on some of the economic issues, but probably within the tolerance margin of most - if not all - of the social policy. As for the known personalities: Hone and Annette, Sue Bradford and John Minto are people who walk the walk and not just talk the talk. They have made real changes and are veteran campaigners who have taken staunch positions - on the right side of history - against the conservative and reactionary establishment.
They continue this struggle for the underdogs and do so with considerable fortitude and with more than the occasional success. Without the likes of Hone, Annette, Sue and John we would still be in a socially and culturally repressive, Muldoonist fug. They are true progressives who will fight to the end. You cannot ask for more than that in a prospective politician. Some have hard edges - like John Minto's protests against individual Israeli sportspeople which I regard as going just one step too far (representative teams would be my limit) - but these are merely quibbles in the scheme of things. I mean, who else would you vote for right now? Labour? The Blue-Greens? WinstonFirst? The difference is you can trust Hone, Annette, Sue and John to be themselves - what you see is what you get. Mana is attracting others of the same calibre and I wish them every success.
So I joined the Mana movement in late August and attended the first hui of a local group. At a following meeting I was arm-twisted into becoming the secretary of what would now be an official branch, having passed 20 members for our group. Writing up the minutes and that sort of thing at a grass roots level - basic participation that is what it is all about.
And then I went to the Waiariki Electorate Hui earlier this month because the chair of our branch was going to stand for electorate (Rohe) chair. The general seats are grouped under the Rohe as well so this would be a position of some influence for our local chair. A group of us went in a van to Rotorua and I discovered all the officers they had at Rohe level were interim. Annette Sykes was there too. [That's her speaking at the hui, standing second from whiteboard.]Our chair was elected. As I expected because all these sorts of meetings are usually jacked up beforehand about who is going to do what.
Then they came to electing a secretary. Someone suggested me. Ha - laughed. Looked around... Just a couple of dozen faces looking back at me. No, seriously, I assumed these things had been jacked up already. They must have been. Another person suggested me. Ah, no. So I say I'm happy being the secretary for the branch... They aren't budging. Isn't there anyone else? I ask, looking around. Nothing. Oh, no. It's at that point I started to think maybe I was the person that had been jacked up - only no-one's told me. Oh dear. Secretary's a hell of a lot of work, and the timeframe is crazy, that's so much work - and the travel, Waiariki is a big electorate, so I have to think of something. A-ha! Well, I say, it wouldn't be a good look to have both chair and the secretary from the same branch that's too much of a concentration of power... I think this is a great argument. They're still looking and someone says no - that's a good thing because both chair and secretary should be in constant communication. Oh, FFS. And I can't just decline it - that would be rude. So I just say "really?" Look around a final time, there's no-one else... and carried. So I'm now the Secretary of the Waiariki Electorate for the Mana movement. And although I never asked for the role it is my duty to be the best secretary I can and to fully support the Waiariki candidate to take the seat and to help the movement get the highest party vote possible. This I intend to do (thus the disclosure label below).On paper at least we're screwed. iPredict - dodgy as it is - has the chances of anyone other than Te Ururoa winning the electorate at only 17% - he's on 81% probability of being re-elected. That's what the market said last week anyway for what it's worth.The electorate result is also - on paper - a very tall, very steep mountain to climb to unseat Te Ururoa:
FLAVELL, Te Ururoa MAOR 12,781
RIRINUI, Mita LAB 5,969
Candidate informals 675
However it is quite clear on the ground here that Te Ururoa has lost a great deal of support and the Maori Party is in very poor shape. The Labour candidate at the last election is retiring and the new one has low visibility and will not be helped by a low polling Labour Party across the country. Despite the impressive majority I expect a win for Mana, but it will have to be earned: village by village, street by street, whare by whare, kanohi ki kanohi.
Labels: Blog author bio/disclosure